Syrian refugee gives birth hours after landing in Fort McMurray
Fort McMurray — At some point between leaving a refugee camp in Jordan and getting settled at her new home in Fort McMurray, Ibtesam Alkarnake’s water broke.
She did not tell her husband, Medyan, or her three sons and daughter, because she hoped the baby would be born in Canada. Alkarnake’s family had no clue how close the baby was to being born as they spent nearly 24 hours in the air.
Neither did the sponsors from Fort City Church or the handful of residents who showed up to greet the arriving family Tuesday evening know she would soon give birth to a healthy boy, Eyad. They had been in Canada just under 10 hours when the baby arrived.
“She was so determined to get here and have her baby in Canada,” said Pastor Doug Doyle. “We thought she was about seven- or eight-months pregnant. She had already been cleared to fly after she had a medical check in Jordan.”
Before landing in Fort McMurray just after 8 p.m., the family had boarded a plane from Amman, Jordan, to Frankfurt, Germany. From there, they flew directly to Calgary, where they spent a few hours before boarding an Air Canada flight north.
When the family reached their apartment with Doyle and members of his church, Alkarnake was finally comfortable telling someone she was about to give birth.
“Once everything was settled in the apartment, she pulled (aside) our committee organizer and translator and explained her situation,” said Doyle.
The birth ended the family’s two-year ordeal to enter Canada, after they were forced to flee their home in Daraa nearly six years ago, during the early days of the Syrian civil war. When the family arrived in Jordan, they lived in a refugee camp with approximately 100,000 other people.
About two years ago, Fort City Church decided it would sponsor a refugee family and partnered with the Mafraq Alliance Church in Jordan for help. A selection committee felt the Alkarnake family would fit in well with Canada. Medyan is a trained truck driver and mechanic, and also has work experience in a bakery.
“Those jobs he was trained in are in high demand. We felt he had a skill set we thought was very employable,” said Doyle.
The church has raised $70,000 for the family and plans to help them integrate into Canadian society. Kim Huygen, who is part of the refugee committee, said the family is anxious to find work. But for now, mastering English is their top priority.
The church’s leadership openly discussed their plans with the congregation throughout the vetting process. Many were supportive, although some were skeptical. The turnaround came after May’s wildfire forced them to flee their own homes.
“I think our congregation reflects the diversity of opinion you would find in Fort McMurray,” said Doyle. “It was amazing how many people started thinking of them when they left their own homes that were lost or in danger. The reservations disappeared when they felt what it was like to be driven out of your home.”
On Tuesday, there was no trace of those concerns as dozens of residents cheered their arrival, waving signs welcoming them to Canada.
Miguel Borges, who is not a member of the church, brought his three children and wife to welcome them when he heard about the event online.
Borges’ father is a refugee who came to Canada from Portugal in the 1970s. At the time, Portugal was ruled by a fascist dictatorship, and was fighting lengthy wars in Angola, Mozambique and Guinea-Bissau.
He was getting on a fishing boat when he was drafted, and jumped ship when it docked in Newfoundland.
“I’m glad to be in Canada. We have an obligation to welcome newcomers,” he said. “The country was founded by immigrants.”